Tatiana Sanchez | San Jose Mercury News | LInk to Article
MORGAN HILL — In a modern political twist to an ancient Roman Catholic tradition observed annually during Holy Week, interfaith leaders from throughout the South Bay on Thursday washed the feet of immigrants — among them a Pakistani Muslim and an Irishman — outside a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office.
The ritual was a deeply personal experience for many of the 12 participants, including a Native American girl, who said they’ve felt targeted because of their ethnic backgrounds, religion, immigration status and sexual preference in recent months.
“This is about us as a community being one and not targeting people because of their differences,” said San Jose resident Vanessa Sandez, who had her feet washed at the ceremony. “The state of our country right now is so divisive, and the leadership is not creating peace and unity, it’s creating division.”
For Sandez, a Catholic, lesbian Chicana who teaches at a school for the deaf, taking part in the ceremony held special significance.
“I’ve never experienced this before, ever,” she said. “For the clergy to be humble enough to do this for us, it’s an emotional experience. It’s a beautiful thing.”
Organizers with the grass-roots organization People Acting in Community, or PACT, organized the event to express opposition to ICE enforcement and deportations. The group set up chairs and buckets in a semicircle outside the ICE office. Once the ceremony began, interfaith leaders poured water over the feet of each participant as activists and local politicians looked on.
ICE spokesman James Schwab said the agency respects “the rights of all people to voice their opinion without interference. The Department of Homeland Security remains committed to sensible, effective immigration enforcement.”
Catholics perform feet washing rituals on Holy Thursday, which commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus Christ, when he established the sacrament of Holy Communion. It also commemorates the institution of priesthood. At the supper, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples and instructed them to do the same for others as a symbol of servitude and inclusion. Today, that tradition is performed on churchgoers and community members annually.
Feet-washings of immigrants also took place Wednesday at the Southern Branch of the California Superior Court in Redwood City, the Contra Costa Sheriff’s Office in Martinez and the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department in Oakland — actions that highlighted ongoing tensions between immigrant communities and law enforcement.
Faith leaders in the East Bay said the foot-washing addressed the California Sheriff’s Association opposition to SB 54, a controversial bill that would turn California into a “sanctuary state” by shielding undocumented immigrants from deportation by limiting cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration agents. They also criticized local sheriff’s departments who continue to cooperate with federal immigration officials.
Contra Costa County Sheriff David Livingston has come under fire from immigrant communities following a meeting with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in February, which sparked protests outside the sheriff’s office.
Sessions met with Livingston as well as other California sheriffs, and Livingston said the purpose of the meeting was to discuss “public safety and the help the Federal Government can provide us to make our communities safe.”
As the Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones washed Samina Sundas’ feet, the Muslim woman from Pakistan wiped away her tears.
Sundas, who lives in Palo Alto, said she’s felt persecuted being Muslim in recent months by people who have questioned her loyalty to this country.
“I have been here for 39 years. I have cleaned highways, I have served in hospital emergency rooms. I have served on the commissions. Ever since I came to America, I have tried to make this country a better place,” she said. “But then someone asks me why Muslims don’t do something to condemn these terrorist acts. Do you know what it does to me? I’m just pushed out of being an American and all of a sudden I become the other.”